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Deadly Texas Storms Help Struggling Aquifers

November 18, 2001|From Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — The deadly storms that battered Texas caused widespread flooding and tornado damage, but the effect was not all negative. The region's stricken water supplies have been dramatically boosted.

"When we have rain like this, it's good news for us," said Margaret Garcia, a spokeswoman for the Edwards Aquifer Authority. "It means the aquifer will go up and be healthy when we start the new year."

San Antonio relies entirely on the Edwards Aquifer for its water. Last summer, the aquifer had been drained nearly to the point of triggering water-use restrictions such as those imposed a year earlier amid a severe summer drought.

But on Thursday, more than 8 inches of rain fell on parts of the Edwards' drainage zone, a 4,400-square-mile area that includes all or parts of 13 counties.

Much of that water percolated into the aquifer through porous limestone, or flowed directly in via streams, cracks, sinkholes and caves.

By Friday, Garcia said, the aquifer was already about 12 feet higher than its historic average for November and more than 40 feet above its lowest point last year.

The intense storm also provided a good recharge for the Trinity Aquifer, the primary water source for much of the southern Hill Country, where the population is spurting, said Judy Gardner, spokeswoman for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

"It's a stressed aquifer," she said. "There's more growth over the Trinity than it can easily support, especially during dry periods."

Midway between San Antonio and Austin, the town of Blanco recorded a one-day record of 13 inches of rain Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

On Saturday, the storm system dwindled and moved toward the north, carrying showers into Oklahoma. Rainfall had dissipated in Central and South Texas, and the north and west had mostly scattered showers, the weather service said.

Although it helped the aquifers, the two-day downpour created widespread havoc.

Rain and high winds toppled road signs, wrecked mobile homes and houses and buried cars in debris and mud.

And, along with nine people killed, some survivors spent hours clinging to trees above rushing flood waters.

"Several times, I thought I would drown," Sharon Zambrzycki, 54, told the San Antonio Express-News of her experience along a creek north of Austin.

The body of a woman who had been at the same spot as Zambrzycki was pulled from the creek Friday.

For far South Texas, the downpour provided a quick but temporary respite.

The swollen Pecos and Devils rivers added enough water to the Lake Amistad and Falcon Lake reservoirs to irrigate farms in the Rio Grande Valley for half a month, said Rio Grande Water Master Carlos Rubinstein.

"It doesn't end the drought, but it's a good start," Rubinstein said.

It would take five or six weeks of heavy storms in a region stretching from the Big Bend to Corpus Christi to fill the extremely low reservoirs, said weather service meteorologist Richard Hagan.

Still, it was a "good rain," said David Peterson, vice president of Starr Produce in Rio Grande City.

Any rain is welcome to the area's farmers, many of whom are preparing for the melon season, he said. "The ground's been cracking; it's really been looking brown. This rain will green things up."

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